Open letter to Metropolitan Police Commissioner Mark Rowley from Women Against Rape, 6 Feb 2023
Police impunity must end.
Only police committed to upholding higher standards can protect the public, starting with women.
On 6-7 February 2023, former police officer David Carrick is being sentenced, bringing to an end his long career as a serial rapist and torturer of women. As we now know, he had been reported for violence at least nine times. The first in 2001 before he was welcomed into the force, and again before he was promoted to the elite armed Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Command where Wayne Couzens, convicted of the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard, also worked.
Since the murder of Sarah Everard and the obscene police selfies taken with the bodies of murdered sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, a women’s movement which had been demanding justice against rape and domestic violence for decades burst onto the streets. The outpouring it generated includes women officers and wives and partners of male officers who were also sexually harassed and assaulted, and threatened with having their children taken from them if they spoke out. (The removal of children from victims of domestic violence is common, causing lifelong harm. Violent officers, like the other violent men they shield, know to use this power to continue their reign of terror over women and children.)
This women’s movement, encouraged by the international Black Lives Matter movement, is also calling it on other institutional police violence and illegality – racism, homophobia, ableism, class prejudice, corruption… – which affect first of all those of us who are women or children of colour and/or asylum seekers and/or disabled and/or queer/trans and/or sex workers and/or in mixed race families… We build on years of anti-racist campaigning, including by friends and families, mainly women, demanding justice for loved ones killed by police.
Since 1990 over 1,848 people in England and Wales have died following contact with police – shot, suffocated, tasered, tortured in custody or on the streets. Many more murders were enabled by police who would not respond to calls from women or children threatened by violent men, or whose investigations were so biased against the victims that the police “have blood on their hands”, to quote the sisters of Jack Taylor, the fourth gay victim of Stephen Port. The same is true outside London where police forces have been found to be committing or allowing similar crimes and criminalising victims (see the rape and other systemic violence against children, especially those “in care”, in Oxford, Rotherham, etc., for example).
As with much of the recently exposed police rape and domestic violence, officers who murder have enjoyed impunity. Leroy Logan, former Met superintendent and former chair of the Black Police Association, points to the conviction of Benjamin Monk for the manslaughter (not even murder) of Dalian Atkinson as:
“…the first time in 35 years that an officer has been found guilty over a death in the line of duty. It’s believed to be the first time ever for a Black victim. In my time as an officer I saw other deaths in police contact cases where, despite seemingly compelling evidence – and in some cases after an unlawful killing verdict at the inquest – there was never any criminal conviction [of police], and often no trial at all.”
Let’s not forget that if by chance a passing car had not filmed Couzens, Everard’s murderer may never have been caught and would likely be out in uniform targeting other women. We don’t even know how many others might have been his victims.
The Met’s first response to this new multiracial women’s movement was to deny the extent of police crimes. Met commissioner Cressida Dick refused to resign (until pushed in April 2022), and stood by her officers, including David Carrick who was under investigation for rape, excusing them as reflecting society’s prejudices. Despite a pension of £160,000 and a golden handshake of £170,000 (reduced from the £500,000 she fought for) she still had the audacity to complain that she had been driven out!
In November 2022, retiring assistant commissioner and counter terrorism chief Neil Basu, rejected such excuses:
“You have got to want your police to be better than wider society because of the powers that we have… professional standards is the most important thing for policing.”
We’ve been saying this for decades. It is infuriating that women like Dick, who shielded guilty men from punishment, are being financially rewarded, especially at a time when women and children are missing meals and can’t afford to heat our homes – more vulnerable than ever to rape and domestic violence.
Since your appointment, you have finally acknowledged the depth of the problem:
- 1,071 Met officers or staff are being investigated for sexual assault or domestic violence
- 556 for racism
- 10 to 20% of officers are not fully deployed because they cannot be trusted with the public
- all 45,000 officers and staff are being rechecked for previous offences
- we should now expect two to three officers every week to come before the courts for serious offences.
This implies that rapists, racists, corrupt officers who have no right to hold power over the public will be sacked and prosecuted, and that vetting will ensure such individuals are no longer hired. But will they, when you claim you are “not allowed to sack them” or that when sacked “other legal bodies…have the power to reinstate them”? And what about officers under investigation who are allowed to retire, bypassing the laws they have broken, with generous pensions intact?
When asked about cleaning up policing, not only of racism but of discrimination generally, Basu points the finger at the National Police Chiefs' Council and the Home Office:
“I don't think Chiefs' [Council] office cares about this subject at all. So if you were a Chief Constable what would you do? You would do what the Home Office cares about, and what the Chiefs' Council thinks is the right thing to do.”
He despairs at home secretaries Priti Patel and Suella Braverman’s immigration policies:
“It is unbelievable to hear a succession of very powerful politicians who look like this talking in language that my father would have remembered from 1968. It's horrific. I was born in 1968. [Enoch Powell]’s rivers of blood speech happened in the constituency next to where my parents lived and made their life hell, a mixed-race couple walking through the streets in the 1960s – stoned. I was beaten.”
Clearly statements and legislation which attack human rights undermine your stated aim to reform the police. First, the Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts Act, now the Public Order Bill, increase not police standards and accountability but police powers. Police are being put in charge of deciding which protests should be allowed and which they would have a right to shut down and criminalise before they even take place. This will impact women in particular who have been at the forefront of protests and strikes not only against rape and murder but racism, deportations, government refusal to act on climate change, and low wages and poor working conditions. We’ve already seen the Met ban, violently attack and attempt to criminalise participants in the vigil for Sarah Everard and (illegally) ban climate protests.
For the Home Office to hand even more draconian powers to an institutionally violent, biased, corrupt police will scupper any attempt to clean up the force, encouraging power hungry bullies to join while silencing officers who want to uphold higher standards. Such powers move us further away from the qualities advocated by former detective Chief Constable Sue Fish when she called it on the sexual assault she had suffered in the force:
“empathy, compassion, conscientiousness, diligence are not assessed, looked at, examined at all in terms of recruitment, training, reward and promotion of police officers.”
Police criminality affects every area of life. How can we trust that the people accused and even prosecuted and imprisoned on the basis of police evidence were not fitted up and/or pressured to plead guilty to avoid worse? How many children, especially children of colour, are stopped and searched for no reason except racism, and have police records they should not have? How many women go to prison after being raped, including by police? Most worryingly, there are thousands of police in schools, profiling and criminalising whole generations of our children, including strip searching without their parent being informed and no appropriate adult present. Child Q was not the only one. Between 2018-20, 650 girls and boys were strip searched by police in schools.
Those officers who now investigate rape act on sexist, misogynist prejudices. The Soteria Bluestone report exposed “explicit victim-blaming” and botched investigations, especially against victims of “repeat/multiple allegations, sex workers, those with mental health or substance abuse issues, intoxicated victims, victims who give ‘inconsistent’ or ‘incomplete’ accounts, and victims who may have lied in the past (in almost any area of their life)” – that is, some of the most vulnerable victims.
This is also our experience of the Crown Prosecution Service. In fact, police and CPS blame each other when either is called to account, thus reinforcing their lack of public accountability.
Whistle-blowers are critical and must be protected. Shabnam Chaudhri, former Met detective superintendent, told Channel 4 News about being a “former whistle-blower”:
“When you try to speak out and challenge inappropriate behaviour and corrupt officers … ranks are closed around you and you are isolated, you are victimised, subjected to investigation yourself… You’ve got women being abused by police officers, male or female, you’ve got to find a way to create safe spaces for those whistle-blowers so that they can speak out and these dirty top cops can be sacked from the organisation.”
The daily terrorism women face at the hands of violent men causes more deaths (two or three a week) than what is officially labelled terrorism. As organisations campaigning against rape and domestic violence and against sexism, racism and all discrimination, it is our considered view that police forces around the UK will not change unless there is a reorganisation of priorities and values, public accountability, and a budget which backs these changes. If the stated commitment that the police will clean up their act means anything, forces must refuse the political powers over the public which the government is offering them. Recruitment, promotion, supervision, leadership must focus on stopping the violence that affects women every day and the racism and other hate crimes against our communities.
- Corrupt, prejudiced officers must be sacked with immediate effect,
not allowed to resign. Any officer found guilty of a serious offence at an internal hearing must be denied their pension. If they have broken the law they must stand trial, as any member of the public would.
- Vetting of prospective officers must be rigorous and include DNA and finger-print enhanced checks against any internal police database and criminal records database.
- Officers who blow the whistle must be protected and those who target them must be sacked.
- Rape, domestic violence, racist attacks and other crimes against the person (rather than property),including by police perpetrators, must become a number one priority for investigations and prosecutions. These must be thorough, focus on the attacker not the victim, and properly funded. The CPS must also uphold these standards.
- No police in schools.
- No strip search of children.
- No additional police powers under the Public Order Bill or any other legislation.
 The Port and the child abuse investigations are reminiscent of the appalling 1970-80s Yorkshire Ripper investigation which dismissed most victims as “prostitutes” resulting in the murders of at least 13 women and seven attempted murders and 23 children without their mother.
 https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2023/jan/29/revealed-cressida-dick-sought-500000-to-quit-as-met-chief It is a tragic indictment of police and government values that Cressida Dick, who led the team responsible for the murder of Jean Charles de Menezes, an innocent Brazilian electrician, did not resign in 2005 but was instead promoted to be the first woman commissioner of the Met.